As the Mark Twain of American songwriting, John Prine was a beloved man, musician, and one of the best songwriters ever. He was this funny grandfather figure; a good old cowboy that was one with the heart of America—unassuming but legendary.
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Prine was born in 1946 in Maywood, Illinois, and passed away in 2020 at the age of 73 years old, due to COVID-19. His legacy lives on as his discography will forever be listened to and covered.
But besides music, what are the little bits and nuances that make up the man that is John Prine? If you’re a softie proceed with caution because you may actually cry. Here are six things you may not have known about folk legend John Prine.
1. He’s a Veteran
Before he became a singer/songwriter, Prine was in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. He was stationed in Germany as a mechanic. When he was there, he asked his dad to send him his guitar, where he spent time in the barracks playing and singing.
Prine’s time in the army influenced his songwriter. He analyzed veteran drug addiction in his famous song “Sam Stone” from his 1971 debut album. He also provided commentary on performative patriotism in his song “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.”
2. He Wrote Songs on Tuesdays Because of… Meatloaf?
In this NPR Tiny Desk concert, John Prine told the intimate crowd that he wrote the song “Summer’s End” with Pat McLaughlin. He mentioned how “We usually write on Tuesdays in Nashville because that’s a day they make meatloaf and I love meatloaf.” He continued that “It’s kind of a carrot on the end of the stick. We get together early in the morning and try to write a song before they start serving the meatloaf and then after lunch, we’d come back and record the song.”
3. He Loved Christmas So Much
Prine mentioned to Rolling Stone in an interview that his house was covered in Christmas lights and when he was single, he kept a Christmas tree in his house year-round. In a 2016 New York Times article, his wife said, “If he had complete run of the house, a Christmas tree would be displayed 12 months a year—as there is in his office.” One time they went to Radio City Christmas Spectacular and she said that “He cried when Santa came out. The colors, the lights, the idea of family, togetherness, bestowing gifts. It means a lot to him.”
4. He Also Loved Hot Dogs
In 2017, he wrote on his Facebook that he “[r]ead an article one time that said hot dogs aren’t good for you, bad stuff in them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t care what’s in my hot dog, I care what’s ON my hot dog. #nationalhotdogday.”
On tours, he doesn’t pack light. He brings condiments on every trip. “I take my own syrup, ketchup, and mustard, just in case of emergencies, in my suitcase. Whatever I can steal from the hotels,” he said in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s usually Heinz ketchup and they give you weird mustard. You don’t get French’s or anything; you get some sort of Dijon or some mustard. That’s just for hot dogs. I don’t use mustard for anything else.”
5. On Tour, He Also Travels with a Toy Motorcycle and Kazoo
You could have probably described John Prine as a little bit of a hoarder. But, it’s okay because the items he kept were absolutely adorable. He was able to find sentimental essences in the little things. In the same New York Times interview, Prine describes how he can’t travel without his toy motorcycle or kazoo.
The toy motorcycle has “a little man on it. It’s kind of for good luck. I’ve had one of these ever since I could walk. I’ve had to replace it over the years because other kids steal it from you. It’s the guy on the back that I really like. He came with the motorcycle, so you wouldn’t want to throw the motorcycle away.”
As for his kazoo, “My wife just gave me a kazoo, so there’s a kazoo at the bottom of the bag. I just used mine on the latest record. Everybody in my band has a kazoo now.”
6. He’s a Fan of the ‘Archie’ Comics
This one truly proves what a timeless soul John Prine was. He loved his comics, especially the classic Archie ones. He said, “I’ve been subscribing to Archie for 40-some years and I just like to receive it in my mailbox. I subscribe to it under the name ‘Johnny Prine, Age 71,’ and I give my correct age and you know, you go to the mailbox once a month, and there’s an Archie comic there with your name on it — it’s kind of a nice feeling.”
Besides getting “Archie” in the mail, his love for the comic didn’t end there. His family gave him a portrait with the “Archie” characters. Prine mentioned that one of the reasons he liked the comics so much was because “I like the pretty colors of the comic. There’s something about getting a fresh ‘Archie’ comic book that’s kinda nice.”
Photo by Tom Hill/Getty Images